The Supreme Court of India’s [SCI] verdict on euthanasia actually takes India one step closer to legal sanction for euthanasia. The reasons given by the apex court are entirely different from those specified by the Attorney General a few days back. The SCI’s observations are worth examining closely.
“Considering the low ethical levels prevailing in our society today and the rampant commercialisation and corruption, we cannot rule out the possibility that unscrupulous persons with the help of unscrupulous doctors may fabricate material to show that it is a terminal case with no chance of recovery.” That is an observation of SCI.
“While many doctors are upright,” continued the apex court, “there are others who can do anything for money. The commercialisation of our society has crossed all limits. Hence we have to guard against the potential of misuse….”
This is absolutely different from the glorious picture of India that the Attorney General was trying to paint with colours of morality and culture.
The SCI is saying that euthanasia would have been a good option had it not been for the abysmal immorality of the country’s citizens, marked in particular by greed and insensitivity. I salute that verdict. It is free from the AG’s hypocrisy. It is an admission of our inner ugliness, our pathetic corruption. If we were a truly civilised nation, the SCI would have permitted euthanasia without so many preconditions. It is difficult to challenge that verdict.
The SCI also made remark about suicide. The apex court wants to decriminalise suicide attempts. It has asked the Parliament to amend the relevant section of the Indian Penal Code so that persons who attempt suicide unsuccessfully won’t be thrown behind the bars.
I am not a supporter of suicide at all. I think suicide is an irrational choice. Irrational, I repeat – not cowardly, and certainly not criminal.
It is sheer absurdity to throw an individual into jail for failing in an attempt to kill himself. How can a country punish a citizen with imprisonment for saying that he or she is sick of living in the country? Sickness is not a crime. Being sick of life is not a crime. Sickness needs treatment. At any rate, throwing such persons into jail is to vindicate their verdict on life. It will only make life more unbearable and unacceptable to them.
Suicide is an irrational choice. Not a criminal choice.
Even nihilistic or pessimistic thinkers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer did not advocate suicide. Nor did the philosophers of the absurd like Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre recommend suicide. Camus even went to the extent of writing a whole long essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, to argue why suicide is irrational. My reasons, however, are not the same as Camus’ much as I admire the intellectual acumen and lucidity of the philosopher-novelist.
My reasons are simpler than these philosophers’. What drives people to suicide is the inability to see a way ahead, a hopelessness in life, an unwillingness to fight the challenges thrown by life. It is an admission of helplessness. It is a matter of attitude in the end.
I think life is a lot like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, whom age could not wither and whose infinite variety could not be made stale by custom. People who contemplate suicide fail to see those rich dimensions of life. They see just a few dimensions which unfortunately turn out to be terrible. It is a question of changing the perspective. It is a matter of stepping on to a different paradigm. It is a matter of opening one’s eyes to a different side of life’s reality.
I am aware of the irony in bringing Cleopatra as a metaphor for life. Cleopatra ended her own life tragically. Before that she had led her beloved Antony to suicide.
But I am not speaking about the sensuous dimensions of life when I look at the infinite, ‘unwitherable’ variety of life. Antony and Cleopatra failed to rise above those dimensions. Life constantly invites us to rise to greater heights. And there are a lot of cliffs to conquer in life. Far above sensuousness. There are the realms of art, literature, music, science – just a few examples.
Of course, a person who is contemplating suicide cannot see those heights easily. When you are lying in the bottom of a deep pit, the heights may not be visible at all. When you stand on your feet and start walking up the heights reveal themselves to you. It is that assistance that a potential suicide requires – not the jail.
Putting a person on to that path which he can walk up is to put him on a path of reason. That’s why I say that suicide is an irrational choice. Life is the rational choice. Once again, for the irony of it, I would like to end this with a quote from an unlikely source: a Catholic theologian. Hans Kung says in his book, Does God Exist?: “… all rational thinking rests on a choice, a resolution, a decision, an attitude; in a word, on a faith in reason.”
PS. Four years ago I wrote a short story on the perils of Cleopatraesque sensuousness. Welcome to it in case you are interested: The Lights below Darkness